Category Archives: Responsibility
Sunday evening, one week into my 19-unit semester. Four months of classes and assignments, abstracts and annotations, essays and reflections loomed ahead. I wanted to get in bed on time … so I wanted the kids to get in bed on time. I approached the boys’ room to pray with them for the night.
I stopped in the doorway, temporarily blinded by the state of their room.
Books, papers, and writing instruments covered the desk. Trio block creations scattered the floor and Lego creations stood on top of the dresser and every other horizontal surface. During the weeks leading up to the kids’ school and my classes starting again, I had spent more than a couple of hours organizing, cleaning up, and cleaning out that room with the boys … then telling them in no uncertain terms that their room needed to stay clean because the weeks ahead would be too busy to spend much time deep cleaning.
“Boys, this room is a mess,” I stated. They looked at me as though I was speaking another language. “How much time did we spend cleaning this room?” They were silent. “You’re not watching any videos until the room is clean.”
As I tried to go to sleep that night, I thought back on my motherly feathers being so ruffled by the state of their room. And I thought about that. The Trio buildings. The art work and projects. The Lego towers. I realized it was all creative play. Building. Drawing. Even reading. All good things. Creative expressions.
No wonder I felt like I was speaking a different language. In a way, that’s just what I was doing. I said “mess” because I saw a mess. They drew blanks because they saw their creations and ongoing projects. We looked at the same room and came up with very different conclusions because of our very different perspectives.
And then I thought about later. Five years from now. Or ten. I thought about their room, and how I might wish to see my kids’ latest drawing or project or poem or construction. But my kids will no longer be kids. They will have moved on to bigger and grander things.
Their room might be clean then. But the loss would be mine.
How many times do I, as a parent, look in from the outside, or from above, and fail to see the world from my children’s perspective? Through their eyes? Whether it be their room or their homework, an argument between siblings, or an emotional situation they’ re going through.
The next morning, before I even got up, the boys had cleaned their room. (And I thought my words had gone selectively unheard.) I missed the chance to get on their level and ask them what they were working on. Or join them in their creative play. Again, the loss was mine, even though the room was tidy.
No, it’s not my job to clean up after my children. And yes, they do need to develop a sense of responsibility. But perspective makes such a difference. Perspective on messes. On time. On teaching and learning. As a parent, I am slowly coming to learn that I have more to learn than I ever did. And even that is a matter of perspective. Seeing the learning as a joy, as something to be gained from every person and every situation.
Even from a “messy” room.
I think oft times as night draws nigh
Of the old farmhouse on the hill,
Of a yard all wide and blossom-starred
Where the children played at will.
And when the night at last came down
Hushing the merry din,
Mother would look around and ask,
“Are all the children in?”
Oh, it’s many, many a year since then,
And the house on the hill
No longer echoes to childish feet
And the yard is still, so still.
But I see it all, as the shadows creep,
And though many the years since then
I can still hear my mother ask,
“Are all the children in?”
I wonder if when the shadows fall
On the last short, earthly day,
When we say good-by to the world outside
All tired with our childish play,
When we step out into the other Land
Where mother so long has been,
Will we hear her ask, just as of old,
“Are all the children in?”
– Florence Jones Hadley
This morning, I was watching a video by Matt Chandler on the theme of “Recovering Redemption” for a Bible study. My nine-year-old son heard part of it and asked a question that led to a short discussion about how God created all things good, but how we have a tendency to misuse or abuse those good things God created. Food. Drink. Belongings. Education.
Right after that, I was scrolling through my phone’s news feed and saw an article about a new after-school program created by The Satanic Temple. The title of the program? After School Satan, intentionally created as a push back against Christian after-school programs, and targeting the areas that have “Good News Clubs,” which the Satanic Temple accused of having “Twisted Evangelical teachings.”
Two concerns come to the foreground in my mind as I consider this overtly “Satanic” thrust.
The first one is personal. When I was 11, certain dark influences entered my immediate environment. These influences affected me deeply. I was a sensitive child, and began having nightmares and experiencing extreme fear. I never felt safe, especially at night, but I was afraid to go to sleep because of the nightmares. Looking back over 20 years later, it is clear to me that children need to be protected from negative and dark influences. It can save them from years of fear, anxiety, and escapism. The Satanic Temple group stated that evangelical teachings rob “the innocence and enjoyment of childhood, replacing them with a negative self image, preoccupation with sin, fear of Hell…” I can only speak from my personal experience, but the thing that most robbed me of innocence and enjoyment, the things that gave me a negative self-image, the thing that inundated my life with fear was not biblical teachings, but the occult and related influences.
The second concern is more intellectual. One of the focuses the Satanic Temple highlighted is their promotion of “a scientific, rationalist, non-superstitious worldview.” An “After School Satan” program is not promoting scientific or rational views. By its very label, and by the title of those creating the program, it is promoting Satanism. Satan. If Satan is real, what does that mean? It means the Bible is real. And what the Bible says about Satan is no joke. He is called the Father of Lies. He is called the adversary of souls, not the promoter of “fun and free thought.” He is known as the “accuser” of God’s children and of mankind. Tempting and then accusing.
And if Satan and the Bible are real, only one thing brings hope. Only one thing brings freedom from fear and spreads light in a world where darkness and violence is prevailing more and more. That is the truth of grace. Instead of spreading “fear of Hell,” Jesus came to bring a hope of a world made new. Instead of giving a “negative self image,” the beauty of the Gospel shows that as flawed as we are, the Creator of heavens and earth stepped down from eternal beauty and gave up his honor for us. That is how much we are loved. Nothing can bring a higher image of our worth than a hero stepping into a broken world, laying down his life that we might live.
We cannot protect our children from every negative influence. We cannot save them from every lie or hurt or bit of darkness. But we can do our best to provide a safe place, where love and light prevails. Where children can learn the truth about what they already know. That in their hearts there is darkness. There is self-will. There is selfishness. These things are in all of us. No amount of denial or smiley faces or focus on scientific rationalism can replace the knowledge of this brokenness.
But there is also beauty. There is redemption. There is the true story of a love that transcended heaven and earth to lay hope at our feet and spread light in our hearts. If all we manage to do is lead our children to the foot of the cross — where all things are made new and we receive the promise of forgiveness, grace, and eternity — we give them the best thing they could ever have. A hope that will never leave. A love that triumphed death and is alive. A story that is never-ending. A grace that is ever-reaching. A Savior. A Redeemer. Jesus.
Have you ever realized, one fine morning, that you’re doing the parenting thing all wrong? Not every parenting thing in every way. For me, it was in something that could be considered the most important … because its essence is forgiveness and grace.
I’ve been reading The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. In chapter four, the author states, “[The saved sinner] knows repentance is not what we do in order to earn forgiveness; it is what we do because we have been forgiven.” I read that and I thought of one of my children. Just yesterday (and the day before) I had talked with my child about “justifying” … these days, we call it “owning.” Own your mistakes. Don’t make excuses. Only then can you learn from them and move on. You’ll be perpetually stuck in the same place if you can’t admit it when you’ve done something wrong.
It’s all fair advice, but I’ve been going at it the wrong way. “Repentance is not what we do in order to earn forgiveness; it is what we do because we have been forgiven.” I am reading that book because of grace. The concept, the gift, the wonder that it is.
In my work as freelance editor, last year, one manuscript after another that I’ve edited has touched on the theme of grace. I’ve picked up books at used books sales or at the recommendation of a friend. Grace. I’ve listened to Christian radio, and my favorite bands are singing about grace.
Over the past year, I realized time and again that although I’ve accepted the grace of God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for 30+ years now, I never quite caught grace. With every book I read or edited, every song I heard or sang along with, I was broadsided with the epic wonder of grace. Because I so quickly forget it. Gloss it over. Stand on it, forgiven, yet fail to extend it to others.
This is what was doing with my kids. I’ve expected them to first “own” their mistakes or apologize … then I’ll forgive them. Then I’ll be gracious. It’s not like I’m standing over them saying, “I won’t forgive you until you apologize,” but I’m conveying that they need to own it in order to make things right. I’m teaching them to be responsible, right? Not to grow up with the victim mentality that “it’s-everyone’s-fault-but-mine.”
Important, yes … but not vital.
Not vital like the grace that says, “The saved were home before they started,” that says, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Not after we apologized. Not once we pulled up our socks or made a show of shame. He died for us while we were in the middle of the muck and mire of this sin-stained world. And He continues to extend grace every moment of every day.
Every moment. Of every day. I don’t understand it. But it rings with such deep truth that it ripples into eternity.
God, help me to do offer grace and forgiveness to my children, to those around me. I’ll never “get it” because Your grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love are beyond comprehension. But it doesn’t mean I can’t give it to others. Your grace is enough. Always.